Animation Plays a Part
are frequent stars of animated films. Several innate characteristics of
the animation process make it an excellent medium for depicting insects,
according to cinema professor Richard Leskosky and entomology professor
May Berenbaum, both of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
of Animating Insects
- The animator determines
size and scale; no sophisticated cameras required.
- The majority of the public
is familar with insects only as caricatures.
- Exaggerated features
make them more interesting and entertaining to the public.
Before the late 1990s, almost
no full-length animated films featured insects in primary roles. Insects
were often in secondary positions, possibly because the public finds them
largely unsympathetic. That changed though, with three major motion pictures
in the late '90s: the stop-motion claymation film James
and the Giant Peach, Antz and A Bug's
Life. Antz is similar to A Bug's Life in many ways. The
Internet Movie Database
has more information on that film.
of Animated Insects
They are frequently anatomically
incorrect. With all those appendages to draw, animators often
remove a pair of legs and simplify other body parts. This has the
benefit of making the insects appear more human, and therefore more
sympathetic, as well.
- They tend to be anthropomorphic, walking upright on two hind
legs and using the forelegs as arms. Their faces have human features
(eyes, nose, mouth, teeth) instead of the biological features of insects
(ocelli, mandibles, etc.).
James and the
In this film (adapted from
a children's book by author Roald Dahl), a young boy comes across some
magic seeds that he plants to grow an enormous peach. Trying to escape
the nasty aunts he lives with, he crawls inside the peach to discover
that not only has the peach grown--the insects inside are life-size, too!
James and the insects go on
an adventure in the peach, which is pulled through the air by a flock
of birds. The insects in this film are portrayed in a positive manner
as teammates and, eventually, James' confidantes and trusted friends.
The grasshopper takes a role
as the wise, older insect, in a reversal of Aesop's fable about the grasshopper
and the ant. James and the Giant Peach also features a spider,
a lady bug, a centipede and a firefly (the lamp, naturally).
A Bug's Life
Disney and Pixar Studios collaborated on this computer-animated film.
The story uses insects to represent different groups of people.
The two main groups are the ants (as a society "programmed"
and afraid of change) and the grasshoppers (as a society motivated by
fear and run by a tyrant). The grasshoppers bully, threaten and occasionally
beat up the ants. This is in line with Aesop's fable. In A Bug's Life,
it is the ants who are always preparing for the future and the grasshoppers
who want a free ride on the labor of the ants. It is interesting to note
that the bad guys, who can't function in society at large, are represented
by grasshoppers, not a social group of insects.
A Bug's Life illustrates one of the most common ways insects are
used in films, with different species representing different social groups.
third faction in the movie is the circus. The performers are all of different
species, reflecting the hodgepodge backgrounds of circus performers in
reality. The flea circus includes a flea (the ringmaster, of course),
a caterpillar, a walking stick and a lady bug.
A Bug's Life goes against traditional insect roles with the circus
characters. The lady bug is no lady. He's a smart-talking tough guy named